McAllister boats tow Intrepid back to museum pier

The lead tug Rowan M. McAllister, assisted by Ellen McAllister, moves the aircraft carrier Intrepid away from its temporary berth on Staten Island. Four tugs participated in the 10-mile, four-hour operation that returned the historic ship to its museum berth following a two-year refurbishment. (Courtesy McAllister Towing and Transportation)

“Let the head lines go!”

Sisters, easy astern.”

“OK, Rowan, tighten it up. Pull the bow out 45°.”

That radio chatter from senior docking pilot Capt. Jeffrey McAllister signaled the start of the long-awaited move of the USS Intrepid away from its temporary dock at Staten Island, N.Y., on the morning of Oct. 2. Four vessels from McAllister Towing and Transportation propelled the historic aircraft carrier back to its museum pier on the West Side of Manhattan.

The four-hour, 10-mile tow culminated an almost two-year project to refurbish the 912-foot ship. The vessels Rowan M. McAllister, McAllister Sisters, Rosemary McAllister and Ellen McAllister successfully re-docked the 38,900-ton retired naval ship at Pier 86, home of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

While the flotilla was underway in Upper New York Bay and the Hudson River, the main tow tug pulling on Intrepid’s bow was the 4,300-hp twin-screw Rowan. The 6,000-hp tractor tug Rosemary was the tail tug, keeping the ship’s stern from being blown cockeyed by the stiff wind.

The 4,000-hp twin-screw Sisters was made up along the starboard hip with head, strap and stern lines, allowing the tug to offer forward or aft propulsion. Ellen, a 4,000-hp z-drive tractor tug, spent most of the afternoon simply following along, waiting until an extra push was needed on the starboard side of the bow at Pier 86.

The dead-ship tow plan specified that the job would not commence if winds exceeded 25 knots. During the early stages of the tow, the wind speed was around 23 knots.

“The biggest concern getting underway was the winds were more than was expected. The wind got right up to our comfort level,” Capt. McAllister told Professional Mariner later. “It’s like dancing with your grandmother. You have to be real careful how you move her.”

Although the wind died down a bit as the flotilla entered the Hudson River, the margin of error was narrow at Pier 86. That’s because the dockside bottom was dredged only just enough to nestle Intrepid — with its 29-foot draft — into place at slack high tide. Upon arrival, the docking pilots were alarmed to discover that the wind was blowing water away from the pier area.

“It’s a very tricky problem,” McAllister said. “You have to wait for the current to drop off, but when that happens, you already have lost a foot of water. So we kind of did a rush job getting it in.”

Indeed, the tugboats were almost touching bottom alongside the ship. On the radio, McAllister urged them on:

Ellen, can you give her any more?”

“I’ll try. I’ll try.”

“You kickin’ up mud over there?”

“Big time — a whole lot of it. She’s comin’.”

With 20 feet to go, Sisters, Rosemary and Ellen persevered, taking turns inching the behemoth into place, while veterans and dignitaries watched. Finally:

“You’re up against all the fenders here, up and down the ship!”

“Jeff, we’re in good position. Nice work, captain!”

By Professional Mariner Staff